The market for rugby players in Europe is well and truly back underway, with rumours, speculation and hearsay around contracts starting to leak out into the media. Bath flanker Zach Mercer is the latest player on the margins on the England set-up who is turning heads in France – according to reports.
The Daily Mail report that Montpellier’s director of rugby, Philippe Saint-Andre, has said: ‘We are watching many players and Zach is one of them.’
Mercer, who was promoted to Bath’s senior squad from the Academy in 2017, has gone on to become a regular feature of the club’s matchday squads and has now made over 56 appearances for the Premiership side. His contract is coming to an end in 2021.
At 23 Mercer is at a crossroads. While he’s picked up two England caps under Eddie Jones, he faces stiff opposition as the Red Rose enjoys an unprecedented level of depth in the back row. Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Ben Earl, Ted Hill, Lewis Ludlum and now Jack Willis are all ahead of him in the England pecking order.
A serious knee ligament injury in 2019 didn’t help his cause and breaking back into the England team looks to be a big ask for the Leeds native. This will undoubtedly play into any decision over his future, as making himself unselectable by England with a move abroad will be less a sacrifice given his selection looks unlikely for the time being.
Both Carl Fearns and Steffon Armitage made the decision to leave England for France and never looked back. Fearns left Bath for Lyon, where he played three seasons. ‘I came to Lyon at a time when I wasn’t particularly enjoying my rugby and was made to feel welcome and a big part of it from the beginning.’ Fearns is now playing for Rouen in the ProD2.
Like Armitage left London Irish, with just a handful of England caps to his name and unfancied by selectors. “I got an offer to go to Toulon from Philippe Saint-André. He said, ‘if you come out, you’re going to be fourth choice’. I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone that I was good enough. I had to get over there and push for a starting place at Toulon. I took the hard step. I gave up everything, me and my wife, and we moved over and I’m glad we did as it made me the player I am today.”
Armitage is currently playing for Biarritz in the ProD2.
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